February 2013 Archives
In today's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy talks about the start of the season and the trip to California.
The snow is falling in Madison as we prepare to head west for spring trip number three, this weekend in Fullerton, Calif. It's been a great start to the season, going 10-1 our first two weekends out. Eight of our last nine games have been against teams that played in the 2012 NCAA tournament, which makes the early wins even more meaningful. We stress the importance of taking it one game at a time, but it's hard to deny that most of our team has been looking forward to this particular weekend in California and these high profile teams.
We'll open up against the host team, Cal State Fullerton on Thursday. They have a lot of excitement surrounding their program right now, with a few ranked wins, a beautiful stadium and a new head coach. Fullerton just beat No. 6 Missouri and No. 10 UCLA this week, which makes them one of the hot teams in softball right now, especially at home. We'll also battle Pac 12 rivals, No. 8 Cal, and No. 16 Stanford.
With a short turn-around from last weekend, this trip will certainly be a test of toughness. When you face great California teams in California, you're the double underdog. Our staff is excited to see how we match up with the best teams in the country right now. The spring schedule is created to help identify your weaknesses, and provide feedback for where you need to improve. Our goal this weekend is to get smarter, savvier and little bit better with each challenging game we face. If we can stay focused, fired up and scrappy this weekend, we just might surprise a few people.
Wow. Give my wife a blog for one week, and she crushes me for my lack of pop culture knowledge. OK, until the last month or so, I knew little, if anything, about Ke$ha. I had no clue about the Harlem Shake. Guilty.
But completely unhip? I object.
For comfort, I turned to Ryan Evans. After practice last Sunday, the Badgers had a brief session in the weight room. Word has it the D.J. is strength and conditioning coach Scott Hettenbach. (FYI, hey kids, D.J. means "disc jockey." The person who plays the songs. Back in the day, we called those songs "records").
Whatever the case, the music blaring included some selections that Evans loves. Current tunes you think? Nope. Try "Love Rollercoaster" by the Ohio Players. Or Heatwave's "Groove Line."
Some 1970s funk. What your friendly blogger was hearing in high school. And Ryan Evans likes it.
"It definitely favors me," says Evans. That's the stuff I was raised on. I definitely like that when it comes on."
Thank you Mr. Evans. Maybe I am not unhip after all. Maybe, just maybe, I am "sneaky hip." Seemingly out of touch, yet still fairly cool.
Let me dream, OK?
* * * *
Onto the much more important matters of the day, such as the final week of home games for the Wisconsin basketball team. Time sure flies when you are having fun, and Badger fans have had a blast watching this team, from the double overtime thriller with Iowa, to the dominating performance against Ohio State. In the middle was the dramatic OT tilt with Michigan.
Even Bo Ryan jokes that he wonders how many people will claim to have been in attendance for "The Shot," starring Ben Brust. We guess about 150,000 -- at least.
Senior Day always has plenty of emotion. The good news is there will be more games to play. Two more regular-season games, on the road at Michigan State as well as Penn State. Then there is the Big Ten tournament, followed by postseason play.
Still, these seniors know the clock is ticking.
"It feels like yesterday we were preparing for Southeastern Louisiana," said Dan Fahey. "All the older guys have said that things fly by, especially your last year. Brett (Valentyn) always told me that. It really has sunk in. It really has flown by."
It is much the same for J. D. Wise, who admits he will be "Tryin' to fight back the tears."
Each year following the final home game, there is a video presentation featuring each of the seniors.
With a smile, Wise offered up a bittersweet moment. "I was looking at the senior questions for the video. It's like sitting in my room listening to Closing Time," referring to the song released by Semisonic in 1998. (Yes, I have heard of it).
The season is far from done, but on Sunday afternoon five players will conclude a heck of a chapter in their lives. With it comes the challenge of balancing any tears with the task at hand.
"The idea is we want them to play as long as they can," says coach Bo Ryan. "That is what they keep in the forefront, that there is still a lot more (games) to play. As emotional as Senior Day can get, and it is emotional, you know our guys still understand that we've gotta play."
Hopefully, they will be playing quite a bit in the next few weeks, even if it won't be at the Kohl Center.
Follow along for regular updates throughout the final day of competition at the 2013 Big Ten Indoor Track & Field Championships, live from the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio. Brian Mason of UW Athletic Communications will offer updates during both days of competition while also taking your comments and questions.
- Men's Preview
| Women's Preview | Live Results
Follow along for regular updates throughout the first day of competition at the 2013 Big Ten Indoor Track & Field Championships, live from the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio. Brian Mason of UW Athletic Communications will offer updates during both days of competition while also taking your comments and questions.
- Men's Preview
| Women's Preview
| Live Results
BY LINDA LEPAY
Mrs. Voice of the Badgers
I am here this week to share with you a big problem. In fact this issue is so pervasive that it affects almost all aspects of my life. It's sad; it's pathetic, and it's totally preventable. It may not be a problem for you (yet), but could you help a person out during these trying times?
My husband is utterly unhip.
This became apparent to me during the past couple weeks as pop culture and Badger sports merged together to give us high entertainment. In fact people everywhere are dancing, having fun and being silly.
Here's what I'm talking about:
1. Ke$ha inspires the men's basketball team. You've probably seen the YouTube video of the Badgers in the locker room jumping around to "Die Young" after they beat Michigan. Even Ke$ha got a kick out of it, tweeting that this was the 'hottest/cutest thing' she's ever seen.
2. The Grateful Red embraces the Harlem Shake. Heck, everyone is doing it, including Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
In addition to the dancing frenzy, the Grammy Awards were recently given out. This is music's big night where millionaire musicians mingle with billionaires such as Jay-Z and Beyonce.
These three events have meant that there's a lot of tutoring is going on at the Lepay house. For a guy who has made a career watching young people play sports, Matt is not tuned in to "what the kids are listening to." During the Grammys I felt like a Tanzanian native tour guide, pointing out singers and bands and explaining their significance.
Here's who Matt recognized:
• Justin Timberlake
Here's who he didn't know:
• Everyone else
At one point I started talking about the The Black Keys and The White Stripes, which left Matt baffled. I even pulled up a YouTube video of The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" so he could listen to the bass line that is, gasp, being played in stadiums and arenas all over the country. (Note from Linda's husband: I AM aware of The White Stripes. Wow. Tough crowd!)
Matt is perhaps the oldest 50-year-old I know. I don't mean he's an old soul; I mean he still talks about the 1980s like it was last week. It dawned on me that his exposure to popular music ended the day he was fired downsized from a Top 40 station in Columbus, Ohio. The date was April of 1986. This explains why he knew who Prince was. (And didn't Prince look smashing at the Grammys with his fancy walking stick and sunglasses?) It also explains why he waxes nostalgic when Wang Chung is mentioned.
Look, if Tubby Smith can bust a move to Ke$ha, I'm pretty certain that Matt can learn about the ways of 21st century music. He just has to be a willing student. All work and no play makes play-by-play guys dull. (Another note from Linda's husband: Hey, Gophers, get your own song, OK?)
Here's where I need your help. If you see Matt in person, my advice is to smile at him warmly and talk about popular music the way you would to a 3-month old beagle. Talk slowly and smile a lot. I think the he'll learn best that way.
In the meantime, keep dancing and rocking, Badger Nation. I'll do my best to keep Matt in this decade. (Final note from Linda's husband: Next, she'll tell me it is no longer cool to listen to Earth, Wind & Fire. And by the way, do NOT undersell the greatness of Wang Chung. Kids today would love it.)
With five regular season games left, the No. 19 Badgers still have a lot of business to take care of before March Madness. But with the calendar turning to late February its fair to start projecting how the 2013 NCAA Tournament field will shake out.
Wisconsin currently boasts a resume that includes an 18-8 record, and a third-place 9-4 mark during Big Ten play. Here is where the Badgers rank on other lists:
- No. 9 Strength of Schedule
- No. 9 in the Ken Pomeroy Ratings
- No. 12 in the Sagarin Ratings
- No. 26 in the RPI
Here is a look at where some of the national pundits are placing Wisconsin in the 2013 NCAA Tournament:
- ESPN Bracketology - Joe Lunardi:
5 seed in San Jose, Calif. playing Belmont (Duke is the No. 1 seed in that regional)
- CBS Sports Jerry Palm:
5 seed in San Jose, Calif. playing Middle Tennessee State (Miami is the No. 1 seed in the regional)
- NBC Sports:
5 seed in Austin, Texas playing Iowa State (Florida is the No. 1 seed in the regional)
- USA Today:
No. 5 seed in San Jose, Calif. playing Louisiana Tech (Duke is the No. 1 seed in that regional)
- Yahoo Sports:
Ranked as top No. 5 seed
In today's Badger Blog, head coach Yvette Healy talks about the importance of quality over quantity in the Badgers' quest to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
What an exciting opening weekend in North Carolina. It's always fun to go 4-1 any weekend. In a 50 game season, every win counts. Yet after posting back-to-back 30 win seasons here at Wisconsin -- and setting records for the most wins in school history last year with 34 and most wins in Big Ten play with 13 -- we understand that there's more to earning a post-season bid than just victories. It's about signature wins. Great teams have an outstanding winning percentage, but they also have wins against the NCAA tournament field. You have to steal a few victories every year from teams that are ranked, teams that are receiving votes, and teams that are perennial powerhouses who compete in the NCAA tournament year-in and year-out.
We've been stressing the importance of quality over quantity this year with the Badger softball team. While winning is always fun, our goal as a program is to compete in the NCAA tournament, make a run deep into the NCAA's and compete for a Big Ten championship. With lofty goals like that, you have to challenge your team on your spring trips. You have to play more top 25 teams, and give your team a chance to steal a few signature wins.
After watching the Badger softball team compete opening weekend, we know we have a lot of work to do. We have lists of things we can improve on as a ball club. The fact is, we're going to be the underdog in a lot of our games this spring. On paper, we're over-matched by a lot of our opponents. For the next four weeks, we're going to face numerous All-American, All-Region, and first team All-Conference pitchers and hitters. We'll go toe-to-toe with athletes who are the players of the year in their conferences. Yet if you want to become a perennial NCAA tournament team, you have to face those ball clubs and strategize how to hang with them. Our goal is to create a game plan that puts our team in a position to win late in the game. If we can keep it close, this team has the grit, heart and desire to make amazing things happen late in game.
Below is a link to video highlights from Sunday's 11 inning, 6-5 win over Notre Dame. It's no wonder Notre Dame's pitcher, Laura Winter, was named All-Region the last two years and 2012 Big East pitcher of the year. She pitched two incredible games against us last weekend, surrendering only one hit over the first seven innings on Sunday. We're so proud of team for showing confidence and composure in extra inning play against a legacy program like Notre Dame.
To foul or not to foul in late-game situations might be a hot topic for some college basketball fans, but we have arrived at the time of the season when another matter can be worth observing. Specifically, which teams appear fresh, and which ones appear to be running low on fuel.
Coming off a pair of thrilling, extra-session games last week, a fairly hidden nugget that might have helped the Badgers is the conditioning of those on the floor. Credit the players for their work ethic, and it might not hurt to tip your cap to veteran strength and conditioning coach Scott Hettenbach as well as athletic trainer Henry Perez-Guerra.
Yes, Ben Brust needed to sink his Hail Mary 40-plus footer, but the energy to make that moment possible, while still having the gas to play five more minutes, says something about how this program goes about its business in the weight room and beyond.
In the double-overtime victory against Iowa, five Badgers played 40 minutes or more. Last Saturday against Michigan, Brust played 40. In the two games, he was on the floor 85 minutes. It was at minute No. 80 when Brust ran his curl route and took a perfect pass from Mike Bruesewitz, which led to the buzzer-beating heave.
That was the highlight, but Brust was able to make a little magic after spending the late morning and early afternoon digging in on defense, which included chasing some very good shooters. That does not happen without a ton of hard work away from the fans and TV cameras.
For a younger player, it is only natural to hit a wall. Hettenbach admits that can happen, especially with freshmen. Yet his objective during the season is to help players gain strength.
"You are either getting stronger or you are getting weaker," says Hettenbach, now in his 18th year with the men's basketball program. "Our goal is to get stronger. It is too early just to maintain. We will start to try to maintain when we get into the Big Ten tournament and the NCAAs.
"Those last few weeks we will really start to taper back, and just make sure guys have their legs and are fresh."
Let us take a look at a veteran whose hard work and smarts came in handy last week -- Jared Berggren. Against Iowa, the big man logged 43 minutes. As the game wore on, he became better, and ended up with 16 points, 14 rebounds and 7 blocks. The man was flirting with a triple-double.
Berggren followed that performance with a 13-point, 8-rebound outing against Michigan. In the final minute of regulation -- which would have been about his 75th minute of playing time last week--Berggren rammed his way down the lane for a nasty dunk, which he turned into a crucial three-point play.
Hard to do that if you are low on energy.
Hettenbach says a key for anyone is to be intelligent in your recovery. Berggren is very intelligent.
"When it is time to rest, rest hard. When it is time to train, train hard," Hettenbach said. "He (Berggren) has been around long enough, so he knows his body, and he knows what he needs to do. He is probably one of the more diligent kids we have ever had as far as doing post-workout, post-practice, post-lift recovery.
"Doing all the rehab he needs for his shoulder (an injury he dealt with early in his career) and any other thing that pops up."
Hettenbach says as the season has moved along, Berggren actually has added muscle and lost body fat.
"He is stronger now than he was from the first day of practice. In fact, most of our guys are that way."
Yes, there are seven regular-season games remaining, but given the Badgers' run of three games in six days, with two of those games going to overtime, it only makes sense to believe that conditioning has played an important role in keeping the Badgers in the race.
You still have to make the shots and get the stops, but in the midst of a grueling Big Ten schedule, the Badgers continue to do what is necessary both on and off the court to have a fighting chance.
With the high school basketball season winding down, five of Wisconsin's incoming freshmen are closing in on their final days as prep standouts. Two signees who have become close friends since making their commitment to UW are Ohio natives Vitto Brown and Nigel Hayes, who were recently featured in an article by the Toledo Blade
(Photo Courtesy of The Blade/Andy Morrison).
Vitto Brown: 6-8, 240, F, Bowling Green (Ohio), HS
An honorable mention all-state pick as a junior, Vitto Brown is averaging 21.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.0 blocks and shooting 61.7% from the field this season at Bowling Green High School. Last weekend, Brown went head-to-head with Michigan signee Mark Donnal (Whitehouse, Ohio) and came away with a win, tallying 25 points, 16 rebounds and six blocks. The 6-foot-8 forward surpassed the 1,000-point career scoring mark on Feb. 2, recording a 39-point, 16-rebound effort in a 77-61 win against Medina. Brown averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds per game last season. (VIDEO: Vitto Brown Highlights
Riley Dearring: 6-5, 180, G, Minnetonka, Minn. (HS)
Riley Dearring is averaging 18.8 points, 6.2 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game this season for Minnetonka High School. Dearring, who recently eclipsed the 1,000-point career scoring plateau, returned from breaking his wrist a couple of weeks ago to score 17 points in a 73-61 win over rival Hopkins. A four-year varsity player for the Skippers, Dearring earned All-Lake Conference honors last season as a junior after averaging 15 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. (VIDEO: Riley Dearring Highlights
Nigel Hayes: 6-7, 230, F, Toledo, Ohio (Whitmer HS)
A three-time MVP for Whitmer High School in Toledo, Nigel Hayes
scored his 1,000th career point in December and is averaging 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game for Whitmer during his senior campaign. Hayes averaged nearly a double-double last season (14.0 points, 9.0 rebounds), while becoming the school's all-time leader in blocked shots. He earned first-team Northwest District selection and second-team all-state honoree and was named to the 2012 OHSSA Division I State Tournament Team. (VIDEO: Nigel Hayes Highlights
Jordan Hill: 6-3, 175, G, Pasadena, Calif. (Exeter Academy, N.H.)
A post-grad from Pasadena, Calif., Jordan Hill is tallying 7.5 points, 8.0 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game for Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H. Hill graduated from LaSalle High School in Pasadena, Calif. in May earning first-team all-Del Rey League honors as a senior. He posted per game averages of 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 blocks and 2.0 steals and was a second-team All-California Interscholastic Federation honoree.
Bronson Koenig: 6-3, 170, G, La Crosse, Wis. (Aquinas)
La Crosse, Wis., native Bronson Koenig is a nominee for the 2013 McDonald's All-American game and is averaging 16.1 points during his senior campaign after missing the majority of his junior year with an injury. Koenig tallied a game-high 25 points this past week as Aquinas defeated Madison Edgewood, 75-49. Despite missing several games, Koenig averaged 18 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last season. Koenig's breakout season came as a sophomore when he earned first-team All-State accolades after leading La Crosse Aquinas to the 2010 Division III State Championship. The co-conference Player of the Year that season, Koenig racked up 17.0 points and 3.0 assists per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field. (VIDEO: Bronson Koenig Highlights
In today's blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes to the team about preparation, approach and response.
As we get ready for our first trip of the 2013, I want to challenge this group to get in the right frame of mind. What do championship programs have in common? They prepare for games, approach games and respond in games like champions.
We've spent the first half of this year in preparation mode. We challenged you to work hard in fall ball. You've had more days practicing outside on the dirt than ever before, taking grounders on the field into December. You survived two-a-days our first week back. You've lifted and ran like champions all winter long. We have one of the best strength, conditioning and nutrition programs in the country, and you are physically strong and prepared. You're smarter and savvier than ever before due to our chalk talks, situation practices, live base-running and IQ sessions. As you spend these last few days reviewing our scouting reports, know and believe that you are prepared to succeed this weekend.
All the thought, homework and preparation in the world can't help you, if you don't walk into the games with a winning mentality. Preparation is important, but when you arrive at opening weekend, focus determination and a championship mindset will win you games. Do you have something to prove this year? I hope thoughts of Nebraska are still fresh in your mind. I hope selection show Sunday at Buffalo Wild Wings seems like yesterday. Are you on a mission this year? Are you ready for your first business trip of the year? Our goal is to win the Big Ten. Our goal is compete in the NCAA tournament. Our goal is play in a super regional. The mission of this squad is to create a foundation of excellence for Wisconsin softball, to put us on the map as a perennial national powerhouse, and build a legacy of success. No one is going to hand it to us. You have to brave enough to go take it. Notre Dame has played in 16-consecutive NCAA tournaments. That's a legacy.
The final key to success is a character goal. How you respond to adversity is the single most important lesson that you'll learn through sports. It really isn't about winning or losing. It's not about strikeouts and home runs; it's what you do next that counts. How you respond to a bad call, to an error, to strikeouts and home runs will define you. What kind of teammate are you? What kind of leader are you? What kind of softball program are we? If we embrace adversity, and are truly excited about the challenges that lie ahead with this tough softball schedule, we'll become the type of athletes and the type of team that can win the Big Ten and compete in the NCAA's on an annual basis.
In today's blog, head coach Yvette Healy writes a letter to the team about the importance of being a role model as a female in athletics.
Today is National Girls & Women in Sports Day. This may seem insignificant to you now, but hopefully in years to come the opportunities afforded to you here at Wisconsin will sink in. We are all blessed to be at an amazing university that supports women's athletics at the highest level.
Just look at the money and resources dedicated to all of our student-athletes with the new Student-Athlete Performance Center, weight room, academic advising center and locker rooms. Next think about the resources dedicated to Wisconsin's women's sports, from the new multi-million dollar indoor softball facility and video analysis programs, to the LaBahn Arena for women's hockey, and the new indoor driving range for golf at University Ridge.
Yet, there is still a huge gap in equality. Think about girl's youth sports, high school sports and inter-collegiate athletics. Funding, resources and facilities are a huge challenge for most female teams. Still the greatest need in women's sports right now is role models.
We need even more strong, motivated, talented, high-achieving young women to step in and share their talents with other young girls. You are the ambassadors for our sport. You are competing at the highest level. Girls everywhere need you to share your story, your knowledge and your gifts. Please take a moment today to drop a card or email to one of your former teams or coaches. Share your story with other young athletes, regarding what playing sports has meant to you.
For me, playing softball at Providence Catholic High School was one of the most influential experiences in my life. We learned the value of hard work; shoveling snow off our field, raking it, pulling the drag around the infield by hand, rolling the outfield, painting the equipment shed and lugging bags of diamond dry to try to get in one more game over spring break. We learned discipline and sacrifice, waking up early for lifting, conditioning and open gym before school started at 7:30.
We were blessed to play for a coach, who was passionate and driven. Every day he pushed us, made us laugh and challenged us to play hard. We learned how to lead, playing with a diverse group of athletes, some who competed year-round, and others who were happy just to play for one year in high school. Time management was critical, balancing a rigorous academic schedule with long bus trips and double-headers. Yet what stood out most were the teammates, teachers and coaches who took the time to talk, teach, support and challenge us.
- Coach Healy
As the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, the backup to the backup, Scott Tolzien didn't take any snaps for the San Francisco 49ers. But he still feels good about his ongoing pro football education.
"For starters, I get to go against the No. 1 defense in the NFL week-in and week-out,'' said Tolzien, the former Wisconsin quarterback, who runs the 49ers' scout team in practice.
"I remember when I first got here, I thought, 'Am I the worst football player around? Or, what's the deal?' It didn't take long to figure out that our defense is extremely good.''
It's one of the reasons why the 49ers are playing in Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens. Another reason has been the dramatic emergence of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Tolzien started the season as the backup to Kaepernick, who was the backup to Alex Smith. But after Smith suffered a concussion, Kaepernick took over as the starter and Smith is now the top reserve.
"I've learned a lot from just being the third guy,'' Tolzien admitted. "What I thought was really cool was that none of this quote-unquote controversy changed the dynamic in our quarterback room.
"It was still business as usual. Both guys, especially Alex, were so professional about it. I know it didn't change the way Alex prepared on a week-to-week basis. That included helping me and Colin.''
Regarding Kaepernick's rapid development, Tolzien said, "We all knew he had the physical tools. You saw that in practice. But the way he's done it on game days is extremely impressive.
"He's still a young quarterback yet he doesn't make the young guy mistakes. Even more than that, he's not just managing the game, he's making plays.''
Tolzien felt all along that Kaepernick "went into this thing extremely confident and once he was able to put a few games together, he can outwardly express that and take command of the huddle.''
Along with Washington's Robert Griffin III and Seattle's Russell Wilson, the dynamic Kaepernick has been at the forefront of introducing an innovative way to attack NFL defenses with the zone read.
"They took the league by storm this year,'' Tolzien opined. "In my mind, one of the top storylines has been what this offensive scheme has done to the league and how it has transformed it.''
But does it have staying power? Or is it a trend? Tolzien wasn't sure.
"I'm curious as anyone else,'' he said. "Right now, nobody has an answer. It creates a lot of one-on-one situations. All it takes is for one guy to be off on his gap responsibilities, and it's a house call.''
There has been no denying the impact of the dual-threat quarterback, for now, at least. But what about the new wave at the position? That includes RG3, Wilson and Indianapolis' Andrew Luck.
"I still don't think people understand how ridiculous that is to step into NFL huddle at that age and take over like they have,'' Tolzien said. "That's so uncommon. Yet they've made it look so easy.''
Tolzien, who led the Badgers to the 2010 Big Ten title, can derive satisfaction not only from the overall team results but in how the defense reacts to each individual opponent from week to week.
Leading up to the Super Bowl, he has simulated the tendencies of Baltimore's Joe Flacco and provided a picture of the Ravens offensively and "concepts that they're running'' with Flacco.
"Over the course of the season,'' Tolzien said, "if you take one piece from each guy (opposing QB), you can have a few more things in your own arsenal to draw from at the end of the season.
"I basically try to treat Wednesday and Thursdays as my game days. What it all boils down to is that you're preparing each week as the starter, whether you're third string or first string.
"You'd be cheating yourself -- you'd be cheating your team -- if you weren't doing that. A majority of my focus is on our own scheme. That's one of the fun parts of the gig.''
On Super Bowl Sunday, he will be "trying to live or play vicariously through the starter and provide an extra set of eyes for adjustments that can be made during timeouts and between series.''
The mere fact that he's on the roster of Super Bowl team has been pretty overwhelming.
"This last week has been crazy, but it also has been awesome,'' Tolzien said. "It's kind of like the same feeling when you win the Big Ten and you find out that you're going to the Rose Bowl.
"Now to actually have those two things happen, it's surreal. I'm so fortunate, and so thankful, and I want to make sure I don't ever take any of this for granted.''
Although he has been inactive more than he has been active, dressing for just three games during the regular season, Tolzien has treated his apprenticeship with urgency.
"You realize at this level that a lot of it is on you,'' Tolzien said. "If you're not good enough, they're going to find the next guy. That's pretty powerful right there.
"You'd better find a way to get better each week otherwise you're not going to last. There's another crop of guys coming into this league after the draft and they're looking to take your job.
"It will be like that every year until I establish myself in this league -- until I get playing time and prove that I can do it. I'm fine with that. Bottom line: you have to be hungry to get better.''
By all accounts, Tolzien is famished. "It's pretty simple, I want to be a starter (in the NFL),'' he said. "That hasn't changed since when I picked up a football when I was 10 years old.''
To this end, he has been taking advantage of his teachers: Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh, a former NFL signalcaller, and San Francisco quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, the brother of Pitt coach Paul Chryst.
"(Harbaugh) played over a decade in the league,'' Tolzien said, "so there's merit in the things that he points out to you, whether it's a defensive scheme or a fundamental of the position.
"It's not just coachspeak. He sees the game through our lens and that has been extremely helpful. I'm just so happy to work with both guys. They're first-class individuals and awesome coaches.
"Geep is the more talkative version of Paul (who was Tolzien's offensive coordinator at Wisconsin). They have the same humor and personality. You're just going to hear more out of Geep.''
As it was, Tolzien heard from Smith after the Badgers hired Gary Andersen as their new head coach in December.
Smith and Andersen were at Utah at the same time.
"Right away, he goes, 'That's an awesome hire,''' Tolzien said. "He told me he's just one of the most genuine people that you'll ever come across, just a normal guy.''
Not unlike Tolzien.